Doctors: Who Should Take Aspirin, and When

Doctors put out new guidelines on when to start daily baby aspirin.

ByABC News
March 16, 2009, 5:35 PM

March 16, 2009— -- An aspirin a day keeps the doctor away...

That's not the saying, but doctors have agreed, for about a generation, that an aspirin a day is good for you. It may reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes by 20 percent or more.

But at what age should you start? How much should you take? And is it different for men than women? The answers -- coming from different studies, interest groups, and insurance companies, were all over the map.

Now, the the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel convened by the Department of Health and Human Services, has published guidelines it says should end the confusion.

The key points:

General guidelines do not always generate much response, but these are on a hot topic.

Doctors said they come from an influential group, and they're being published in a widely-read medical journal, the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Numbers are hard to come by, but few people who would benefit from a daily baby aspirin appear to be taking one. In one recent study, only 16.6 percent of those eligible were taking aspirin.

If they start, doctors say their risk of heart attack or stroke will drop by about 20 percent.

"People may ask themselves, 'Am I at risk for a heart attack or a stroke,'" said Dr. Randal Thomas, director of cardiovascular health at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. "If you're above age 45 and male, if you're above age 55 and female, the answer is most likely yes, and you will most likely benefit from taking a small dose of aspirin a day."